There it is. Your 2017 Royals are officially, finally dead.
Cause of death: Jason Hammel sucks.
In a must-win game, the Royals handed Jason Hammel a 6-2 lead against the worst team in the American League. He blew it. He blew it rather quickly. And now the Royals, 75-78 and 4.5 games back of Minnesota with just nine games left, are all but finished.
It was the perfect game to officially end any playoff hopes - frustrating and maddening to the end.
Hammel immediately spotted the White Sox with a 2-0 lead thanks to second-inning RBIs by Matt Davidson and Yolmer Sanchez. Against Reynaldo Lopez, who has struggled in his rookie season, the Royals then struck for six runs in the third inning to grab control of the evening.
Alcides Escobar led off with a homer, his sixth, to cut into the lead and make it 2-1.
Alex Gordon reached on an error. Whit Merrifield singled. Lorenzo Cain reached on an error. Melky Cabrera singled in a run (2-2). Eric Hosmer singled in two runs (4-2). Salvador Perez singled. Mike Moustakas hit into a double play, but a run scored (5-2). And then later on in the frame, Hosmer came home on a wild pitch (6-2).
Hammel had a golden opportunity to put down a crappy team and give his team their third straight win, keeping them bleakly alive in the Wild Card race. Instead, Chicago embarrassed him. Five runs were allowed in the bottom of the fourth inning. Double, single, three-run homer, strikeout, single, two-run homer.
Completely, totally unacceptable. This is horrifying to think about, but Hammel had been the team’s most consistent starter. He wasn’t good, but you could at least depend on him to get you to or through the middle innings. Being just ok would have been plenty enough tonight. Hammel wasn’t even close. And that’s maddening for a guy who was signed to stabilize a rotation in desperate need.
Hammel has started 31 games for the Royals in 2017. His ERA ballooned to 5.32. He is now 8-13. Yuck.
Also yuck: the Royals’ offense for the rest of the game. They didn’t score another run against a really bad team. They blew a first-and-third, one-out situation in the fifth. Alex Gordon was thrown out at home for the third out of the sixth.
Oh, but then there was the ending. Those jerks saved the best for last, that’s exactly what they did.
With Merrifield on first and one out, Lorenzo Cain engaged in an epic, 10-pitch battle with Juan Minaya. On the 10th pitch of the at-bat, Cain singled with Merrifield running. He tried to score. He was thrown out at the plate. Then, the catcher fired to second base and caught Cain trying to run into a... never mind. You get it. A double-play occurred on a freaking single. It was such a Royals-esque ending.
Look, I may sound bitter. I get it. But this team... they really should have been better. They put together such a good July and then everything just got blown apart after that. This core deserves better. I will miss them dearly, that’s for sure.
The ESPN box score literally says “Cain singled to right into a double play.” Unbelievable.
The Royals surely need to win their last eight games to have a shot at the postseason. And even if they were to do that, the Twins just need to win four of their last nine to stay ahead of them.
Tomorrow: Danny Duffy and Dylan Covey battle at 6:10 pm CDT.